Gwen Garcia seeks House probe into Cebu jail drugs

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Deputy House Speaker and Cebu 3rd District Representative Gwen Garcia on Wednesday, August 31, called for an investigation into the entry of drugs and weapons, among other anomalies, at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC).

In her first privilege speech in the 17th Congress, Garcia said, "The CPDRC was a source of pride, a best practice model. How has it come to this?"

The CPDRC first received international attention in 2006 for its dancing program as part of its rehabilitation for drug-dependent inmates.

While the jail claimed to be drug-free, a raid last August 13 yielded a considerable amount of shabu, drug paraphernalia, sex toys, and P60,000 in cash. More drugs, cash, and fighting cocks were found in a compound outside.

According to the police report, inmate Jerryfer Perigrino claimed to be a caretaker of the fighting cocks. The fighting cocks, Perigrino said, belonged to jail warden Romeo Manansala himself. Manansala resigned a day after the raid.

The police operation at the CPDRC happened on the same night that neighboring Cebu City Jail was also raided. The city jail yielded P4.5 million in cash, shabu valued at P240,000, and other contraband.

While the city jail is managed by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the CPDRC is directly under the provincial government.

Last July, at least 10 CPDRC inmates died, with most of the deaths attributed to cardiac arrest brought about by pneumonia. A prison health worker had said that overcrowding might have triggered the disease.

Before the jail raid, prison consultant Marco Toral had resigned due to a string of controversies. He was imprisoned for 7 years previously, but became a vocal advocate of restorative justice and rehabilitation in the prison during his time as consultant. 

An appointee of Governor Hilario Davide III, he was supposed to be summoned to an inquiry by the Cebu provincial board. (READ: Consultant quits Cebu jail famous for dancing inmates)

"By the way, Marco Toral, a Davide appointee, is an ex-convict out on appeal from a life-sentence due to drug crimes," Garcia said.

"When asked why he appointed Toral, Davide's justification was that he has 'experience.' Seriously? Obviously Toral applied this experience in making sure all of the monumental gains we've made with the CPDRC are erased, completely wiped out,'" Garcia said.

According to Garcia, the events she listed were only a few among several that justify an "investigation in aid of legislation" into the prison and Governor Davide, whom she blames for the problems at the CPDRC.

Garcia previously served 3 consecutive terms as governor of Cebu, from 2004 to 2013, before she ran for a seat in Congress in 2013.

"For more than 3 years, I never criticized him. I never said a word. Despite not being party mates, I made sure he received a proper turnover, a smooth transition, granting him the dignity of his office which his party deprived me of my last months as governor coincidentally before the 2013 elections. I gave him my support. But enough is enough," Garcia said. 

Garcia was suspended by former president Benigno Aquino III for "grave abuse of authority." (READ: Aquino suspends Cebu Gov Gwen Garcia)

The former governor emphasized during her privilege speech that CPDRC reforms under her term as governor led to the now world-famous dance program.

She said: "I believe it is a statement of fact that under my watch as governor, the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center became a world-class facility worthy of emulation; that whilst other Philippine jails were hounded by controversies, our provincial jail became an international showcase evoking national pride."

She said that the investigation would "look into the glaring deficiencies and gross mismanagement and administration of the CPDRC."

Rappler reached out to Davide for a statement, but has not received a response as of posting.

On August 19, House Speaker Panteleon Alvarez led allies in filing a resolution to probe the proliferation of drugs in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa during the previous administration. (READ: House to probe drug use in Bilibid during De Lima's time) –

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.